Keon and Peak: Two Firefox OS smartphones tested

Not Quite Local

As a result, the software feels like a local program, but appearances can be deceptive. Under certain circumstances, the browser continues to load the entire application code every time you start a server from the Internet. Apps installed in this way are not necessarily packaged apps that Firefox OS has unpacked on the local filesystem. Purely on the basis of the starter icon, the user cannot currently distinguish local apps from Internet services.

The browser run time in which the application runs remains an Internet browser: It opens links to HTML pages without any notification that it is leaving the local filesystem. Only time will tell whether users feel comfortable with this blurring of the boundaries between online and offline content, and this approach could potentially create new security problems.

Web developers need to learn very few new tricks to develop an app for Firefox OS: The same basic techniques are used as for normal web applications. Developers can implement programs in JavaScript on both the server and client sides.

The first specific challenge is the small screen. At this point, the apps do not greatly differ from the long-established mobile versions of larger websites. The only requirement for the installation of an app is the manifest [9], a simple JSON file. Of course, the user will prefer client-side apps, which can also be used offline thanks to cache management or local installation.

JavaScript Is Mature

The art of client-side programming in JavaScript has long reached a certain level of maturity: JavaScript is now as powerful as many of the classic scripting languages. The browsers come with a debugger, and IDEs [13] [14] support the language well. A wide selection of libraries and frameworks are present that often follow the model-view-controller paradigm (Table  3).

Table 3

Frameworks and Libraries

Frameworks

URL

High-level frameworks

Marionette.js

http://marionettejs.com

Thorax

http://walmartlabs.github.io/thorax/

Low-level frameworks

Backbone.js

http://backbonejs.org

jQuery (DOM abstraction)

http://jquery.com

User interface

jQuery UI

http://jqueryui.com

Sencha Touch

http://www.sencha.com/products/touch

SproutCore

http://sproutcore.com

Light and Shadow

Many animation effects, but also functional features of a user-friendly GUI, are definitely easier to implement in HTML5 and CSS3 than in native graphical toolkits. One advantage of Firefox OS, however, is that there are more potential programmers around than for Android or iOS: Virtually any web developer can get started, with no major barriers to entry, although there are some undeniable drawbacks: JavaScript as a scripting language is inevitably slower than Java or C++, which has an effect on battery life.

In terms of security, browsers do not have good reputations. Although JavaScript is better than many C++ or Java developers might think, it still has inherent defects, such as the 64-bit limitation for floating point numbers. Additionally, whether users will be comfortable with the blurring of the online-offline boundary is not yet known.

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